I, TONYA (USA 2017) ***1/2

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I, Tonya Poster
Trailer

2:24 |Trailer
Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.

Director:

Craig Gillespie

Writer:

Steven Rogers (screenplay)

In 1994, the figure-skating world was shocked by the brutal attack on US medal hopeful Nancy Kerrigan.  The more shocking news was that the attack was allegedly conceived and executed by those close to — and perhaps including — rival figure skater Tonya Harding.  The film tells Tonya’s story and thus the title I, TONYA.

The story is revealed in tongue in cheek events with humour and irony while keeping to the main dramatic details.

Sad, funny but real this biopic of the infamous American figure Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) plays like a mockumentary as the film is bookended by interviews of the main characters 20 years after ‘the incident’.  The film then unfolds in chronological order with Tonya as a child brought to the skating rink as a skating prodigy by her mother who would often slap her around for not doing her best.  

‘The incident’ as described in those exact words in the film itself refers to the breaking of rival skater Nancy Kerrigan’s knee by Tonya’s ex-husband.  The question was whether she knew of the plot.  As the film explains she likely did not at the start, as it was all Jeff Gillooly’s (Sebastian Stan) idea but when she did get nailed for it, she was then banned from figure skating in any organization for life, a sentence in her own words, that was worst than prison.

Films have been often made of heroes and survivors, but it is seldom that one is made of white redneck trailer trash.  That is Tonya Harding.  But director Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers portray the skater as someone America loved to hate, but also paints her, despite her volatile and fierce personality someone vulnerable to her surroundings and acquaintances.  She is treated brutally (physically and emotionally) by both her two closest relatives, hers husband and mother (Allison Janney).

Director Gillespie remembers that I, TONYA is after all a film about the sport of figure skating.  The segments of skating have to be good and they are.  Compare the recent tennis film BATTLE OF THE SEXES which made the mistake of including no exciting matches in it.  Her triple axel at the 1991 championships is shown beautifully in slow motion.

Gillespie elicits some mighty fine performances from his cast most notably Robbie in the title role as well as Janney as her stern mother, LaVona.

The dialogue though in everyday words are at times so predictable, one can say the words just before the characters utter them.  In one scene, after LaVona after throwing a knife that sticks into her daughter’s arms utter the words: “Every family has its ups and downs.”   A comical line though the words are stolen from the play and film THE LION IN WINTER.  But there are some good lines in the script as when LaVona says (and really believes) that she sacrificed being a loving mother so that Tonya can grow up to become a fierce skater.

Though the film deals partly with the daughter/mother relationship, it shows for once that the relationship is a sour irreconcilable one.  Still the film finally gains the sympathy of the skater, that in her own words describes herself as the one America grew to hate.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXZQ5DfSAAc

 

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Movie Review: THE FINEST HOURS (2016)

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the_finest_hoursTHE FINEST HOURS (USA 2016) **
Directed by Craig Gillespie

Starring: Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck

Review by Gilbert Seah

Following hot on the heels (or rather on the keel) of Ron Howard’s recently released sea adventure, the critically and box-office flop IN THE HEART OF THE SEA, THE FINEST HOURS follows a crew of men fighting the elements, which is just as intense though without a Moby Dick-type monster. The plus of the two films is the authentic claustrophobic atmosphere in the vessel when the men are sailing, something that will surely discourage those intending to take a cruise some time soon.
The title ‘based on a true story’ immediately flashes on the screen at the film’s start and the film is clear to remind its audience of this fact throughout the film.

The film is a Hollywood account of the daring 1950s rescue mission by the American Coast Guard. An oil tanker, the Pendleton is split in half by a perfect storm. The surviving sailors are left adrift with no means of communication exempt to blast the horn. A member of the nearby community hears the call and a coast guard boat led by the hero, Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) with his crew then risk their lives to find and rescue the sailors. On the tanker’s side, the hero is the chief engineer, Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck).

Director Gillespie spends too much screen time at the start with the romance between Webber and Miriam (Holliday Grainger). All this is to emphasize the heroism and sacrifice of both the men and the women by their side. Gillespie directed LARS AND THE REAL GIRL and therefore uses his past experience in putting in relationships into this film. As in most Disney films, the money making formula is kept to a ’t’.
Romance, action, a happy ending with good heroic dialogue like: “We are all going home.” The problem resulting is a too predictable film.

There is one segment in which all power is lost in the town as a result of the storm and the rescue boat, without a compass needs to find land. I could predict all the cars turning on the headlamps to signal the boat way before that scene occurred.

Once the storm occurs, Gillespie crosscuts between the action in the oil tanker and the action in the Coast Guard boat. It is a 50-50 division. What occurs inn the tanker turns out the more interesting, aided by the fact that the script emphasizes problems between Ray and a disagreeable mate (Michael Raymond McTavish) who has his own ideas on survival. The introduction of a singing cook (Abraham Benrubi) lifts the spirit of an otherwise too serious film.

But one can only endure special effects (not bad ones though) for only so long.

Disney’s THE FINEST HOURS ends up one of the most boring tales of an incredible true mission despite all the enormous effort put in. THE FINEST HOURS is a tad better than IN THE HEART OF THE SEA but that is not saying much.

 

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